When I reserved the ballroom for the Midwest Haunters
Convention, I thought it would be quite obvious that our costume party would be filled with scary creatures. A group of Secret Service agents begged to differ.
If you run an exhibition for haunted attractions, you think nothing of walking into your show hotel with deranged clowns and blood-thirsty monsters after a long day on the show floor. But it's easy to forget that the sight of your ghastly crew ambling up the sidewalk can be quite terrifying to people not attending the show, and if those people happen to have guns, they can show you a thing or two about being scared.
We had just such an encounter the first year we hosted the Midwest Haunters Convention, an event for people who own or work at haunted attractions, at Cooper Stadium in Columbus, OH. On the show floor, makeup artists demonstrated their techniques on actors and attendees, giving them gaping wounds and bullet holes and such, though many show goers had come dressed in full haunt gear to brag up their attractions. The pros also competed in the Monster Makeup Wars, which produced some particularly over-the-top characters, and I think it's fair to say our show consisted of a creepy-looking bunch.
At the end of the day, everyone piled into cars to head for the convention's host hotel where we would be holding a masquerade party that night. Most people stayed in horror garb, planning to compete in our scariest costume contest or the evening's main event, the Scariest Woman in the Midwest pageant. As the president of the show organization, I had personally made the party arrangements with the venue, informing it that the large block of rooms and ballroom reservation were for a haunted-attraction convention. Perhaps I hadn't been clear enough about the fact that it would include a lot of frightening costumes when I told the hotel sales rep we'd be dressed up, but I guess I thought the words "haunted attractions" made that obvious. When we arrived at the hotel, I found out that I had guessed wrong.
Parking for the hotel was in a lot on the back side, requiring us to traverse a sidewalk along the building and around a corner to reach the front doors. About 20 of us were in the first wave of people to arrive, and as we rounded the building, we were surprised to see a long row of motor coaches parked in front of the hotel. There were a lot of men in black suits outside milling about, and when one of them turned and saw us, all hell broke loose. The man yelled to the others, and they all started running toward us – with guns drawn.
Maybe they were surprised to see dead clowns, people with gaping, bloody wounds, and the creature from the black lagoon coming down the sidewalk. OK. I get it. But this seemed like a tiny overreaction. The guys were pointing their guns at us and ordering us against the wall with our hands up. And just then others from our group came around the corner. More yelling, more gun brandishing, more bewildered monsters and violent-crime victims pushed up against the wall. Soon, there were close to 200 of us lined up.
Though I realized it could result in a real bullet hole, I stepped out of the line and strode up to the guy who seemed to be in charge. Thankfully, I was dressed normally and had passed on all "gorification" offers at the show that day, because I don't think he would have taken me seriously if I had a hatchet sticking out of my skull. I told him we were guests of the hotel and demanded to know why we were being manhandled. The man whipped out a Secret Service badge and told me to get back against the wall. I persisted, telling him we were hosting an event inside the hotel and insisting we had a right to pass.
Well it turns out someone else had an event inside the hotel that evening – Senator John Kerry, who was at that time running for president. But Senator Kerry was holed up on one of the buses waiting for word that the terrifyingly weird group coming toward the doors had been subdued.
It took 10 minutes for Secret Service agents to round up the hotel's manager and get him outside, where he confirmed that we were indeed guests of the hotel. But there was no way that he, or the guys with guns, were letting us walk through the front doors of the venue. We were going to have to use the side door, the manager told me.
Furthermore, he said, we would have to take the service elevators out of sight of the public areas so long as Senator Kerry was there. I contemplated protesting on principle, but knew I would lose, so I instead shepherded the group back down the sidewalk and into a small door on the side of the building.
But the excitement didn't end there. Later in the evening as the party commenced, people began using the hotel's main elevators, and a whole new security scene erupted – twice. Apparently Snoop Dogg and Jerry Seinfeld were staying at the same hotel. In separate incidents, their security guards barred our guests from riding in the elevators, and we were once again relegated to the service elevator with staff who were only partially amused to be sharing their elevator with people who looked like they'd been murdered.
Despite the unfortunate hotel incident, our first show was a hit, and we have since grown to be the largest haunted-attraction show in the country. We never returned to that hotel and have since found a home at the Hyatt Regency Columbus, which welcomes our macabre crew with open arms. But each year we insist on a preconvention meeting with hotel management to make certain it understands our event so they can prepare accordingly and no one gets frightened. It's fun to know we can scare people, seeing as it's our business, but it's a lot less fun when those people pull guns on us.
— Kelly Collins, president, Midwest Haunters Convention, Columbus, OH